Cape Town - Commuters on a southern suburbs line train panicked and scrambled to exit the coach they travelled in when an engine overheated and caught fire on Wednesday.


Commuter Adam Pye from Fish Hoek said his 5.20am train to Woodstock was moving much slower than usual and despite it stopping and starting occasionally he did not think anything of it.

Travelling in the first coach, he started to worry when near Steurhof station the train suddenly stopped and he smelt smoke and something acrid, Pye said.

As the train pulled away, a passenger who had alighted ran next to the train shouting and pointing at the undercarriage, he said. Passengers started to panic after the cabin’s doors remained locked for about 10 minutes after they were alerted to the fire.

“It was pandemonium.”

The cabin filled with smoke and they were plunged into darkness, he said.

Metrorail regional manager Richard Walker blamed fare dodgers travelling between carriages, who could sever

or trample interconnecting cables leading to overheating or affecting braking ability.

“The grids located underneath the motor coach overheated and eventually caught fire,” he said, adding that the driver extinguished the flames, then released doors and evacuated passengers.

Pye said the driver was alerted to the fire 10 minutes before he opened the doors. It was only after everyone was out of the train that he extinguished the flames.

Walker said the passengers were evacuated at Plumstead station, but Pye said about 100 commuters had to walk through an industrial estate to the station and at no stage were they offered assistance.

Walker said: “Metrorail has a comprehensive and well-practised contingency plan which is activated in case of any emergency.”

Drivers’ cabins were fitted with fire extinguishers which were tested before journeys.

The incident resulted in delays, some by more than an hour. Walker apologised and said the incident was being investigated.

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Cape Times